Author: Fabian Belgrave/BGIS
Minister of Agriculture, Food and Nutritional Security, Indar Weir believes that farmers should be encouraged to produce more crops to reduce Barbados’ food import bill and suggests systems must be in place to ensure agri-business grows.
Speaking on day two of the AfriCaribbean Forum, at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, Two Mile Hill, St. Michael, the Agriculture Minister tabled his concerns about the high food import bill of CARICOM member states, stressing that it should be addressed in the forum.
“Our region imports a lot of primary agricultural produce, but more than 60 per cent of what is on our food import bill comes in value chain products, processed items, condiments, those types of things. If we’re going to truly address the food import bill, we have to start to understand what it takes to get back to solid manufacturing, so that we can address some of these issues,” he disclosed.
Minister Weir suggested that in order to attain the 25 by 2025 target, agri-food systems needed, “a total revamp”, and stated that we, as a region, needed to stop importing for competitive advantage.
“Do you want to pay one cent more per kilo for locally produced produce or, are you going to just go and allow for the competition to take over while the local farmers within the region have to struggle?” the Minister queried.
Speaking to his African contemporaries on the topic of introducing technology to farmers in order to help move them to the next stage he advised: “We must move farmers away from a mindset that it is not a business. It is a business! We must move policy to drive people into the reality that training must be at the core of all of this. We must move people to the point that they recognise that you must be able to measure what you produce… To apply costs …To track your operating expenditure and equally, we must move people to a space where they understand that we can grow it here.”
Meanwhile, Sub-Regional Coordinator for the Caribbean Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Dr. Renata Clarke, informed the panel that the FAO would play a supporting role. However, she maintained that it was imperative that everyone did the same as well.
“We need to understand where the biggest opportunities lie and we’re very much taking a value chain approach…. There are certain commodities, certain value chains where the Caribbean can produce competitively and I do want to underline that, competitively. Because I would like to remind us that the cost of a healthy diet in the Caribbean is among the highest in the world, if not the highest.
“So, not only must we produce locally, but we must be producing efficiently. We’re not the most greatly endowed in terms of many agricultural resources, except for some of the countries of the Caribbean, of course. So, it is understanding where the constraints lie,” Dr. Clarke explained.